Alum Spotlight: Father Joseph Binzer
A Helping Hand
Binzer, after being ordained as
Decades before he felt a calling to devote his life to God, Joe Binzer already had dedicated his life to service.
In 1972, in his application for the Evans Scholarship, Binzer, then 17 years old, wrote in neat, cursive handwriting: "I wish to go to college in order to further myself both as a student and as a person, in order to be able to help someone who may be in need in later life."
He didn’t know it at the time, but Binzer, in later life, would be in a unique position to help thousands. From caddie to college student, and later from public accountant to priest, the many roles of his life have helped prepare him for his current and most important role of all: Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Bishop Binzer was ordained on June 9 at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Chains in Cincinnati. In his new role, he helps the Archbishop of Cincinnati in leading the region, which includes almost half a million Catholics and hundreds of parishes, schools, hospitals, agencies and institutions. "It’s been humbling and a great blessing," Binzer says. "It’s something I never would’ve anticipated."
As a child, Binzer never dreamed of becoming a priest, but faith always played an important role in his life. He grew up in a large family with six siblings and attended Catholic grade and high school. Even then, he was viewed as a leader. One younger sister, Jane Moore, recalls how he once took the blame on behalf of another sibling for messing with their father’s tools. "That’s the kind of person he was," she says. "He’s always been a peacemaker, and he always tries to see the best in any situation."
One summer, his father, who didn’t tolerate laziness, encouraged Binzer and his brother, Tom, to caddie at the nearby Clovernook Country Club, a mile from home. Binzer recalls coming home from training early one day, and his dad promptly sent him back. "If you’re going to be sitting around doing nothing," he told his son, "you might as well go back there."
Binzer was a hard worker in the classroom, as well, always getting top grades. Tom Binzer recalls the first day of grade school when a teacher, upon learning he was Joe’s brother, said, "You’re going to be one of the smart ones."
The brothers both earned the Evans Scholarship to Miami University. In college, Binzer served as a chapter vice president for two years and earned the Program’s distinguished Ames Award as a senior, based on votes by his peers. He also earned the nickname "Bugs," his brother recalls, because as vice president in charge of house maintenance, "he was always bugging people to do their (cleaning) jobs and do it right." As a leader, Joe knew when to have fun, Tom Binzer says, but he also knew when it was time to be serious.
As a college senior, Binzer tried to make an early donation to the WGA Par Club, which was quickly returned because at the time, money wasn’t accepted from Scholars who were still in school. He became a life Par Club member in 1986 and later served as a WGA Director for 11 years. In a letter to WGA leaders in 1986, Binzer wrote: "I truly feel that the Evans Scholars Program has been the big difference in my life, and I’ve tried not to hesitate in letting people know that when I describe the Program to them."
After college, Binzer worked as a CPA at Arthur Young & Co. In 1986, he was having lunch with a client — the then-executive director of the regional Catholic Charities — when the client suggested Binzer become a priest. "I was stunned," he recalls. "One minute, we were talking about financial statements; the next, he was saying, ‘You know what you should do with your life?’"
But something had resonated. Praying for guidance, Binzer enrolled in Bible classes to see if it was something he wanted to pursue. In 1988, he enrolled in the seminary. "I was obviously surprised," Tom Binzer recalls of hearing the news, "but there was never a thought in my mind that he was making a mistake."
He also had surprised someone else — Roland F. "Mac" McGuigan, the WGA’s then-educational director. "After recovering from your bombshell decision, I realized that your future marriage to the priesthood made much sense," McGuigan wrote. "You have the required character, temperament, compassion, convictions, personality and integrity. My prediction is that you will be one hell of a great priest!"
On June 4, 1994, Binzer was ordained a priest. Soon afterward, Binzer told the Cincinnati Enquirer that his ultimate goal was "to help people appreciate the love God has for them and to simply accept people for where they are in the faith journey — to recognize there are people struggling with their faith and others who are ecstatic about where they are. I just want to help people in whatever way I can."
Since then, that’s exactly what he has done. For the past eight years, Binzer served as chancellor of the Archdiocese, answering questions about church law and overseeing child protection programs. Both the adults and kids at his parishes adored him, friends say, with his kindness and sense of humility particularly resonating. "Joe is one of the most genuinely humble men that I’ve ever met," says Mary Jo Neumann, a parishoner and family friend who has worked with him in various capacities over the years. "He’s also very down-to-earth and very real. He understands how to bring your faith down to an everyday level."
She recalls how the children would flock to him on the church playground. "It was really something," she says. "They would wrap their arms around his legs. He was a magnet." And she has no doubt he will be a success in his new role. "He will be the people’s bishop," she says. "I think people will respond to him the same way they have always responded to him, wherever he goes."
Binzer was stunned the day it was announced he had been selected to be the next auxiliary bishop. So was his family. "It’s been very humbling for us all," says Tom Binzer, a current WGA Director.
In his new role, he assists the diocesan bishop, who is designated by the Pope to lead a particular region. He’ll attend parishes for special ceremonies and teach at schools, among other responsibilities. As he always has, Binzer feels tremendous gratitude for the opportunities he has been given. "There are things I feel blessed to have a chance to do," he says. "God always gives me the grace to help me to do what I’m supposed to do in a particular circumstance."
And he hasn’t forgotten his roots, which include caddying and earning the Evans Scholarship. To this day, he remains close with many of his Evans Scholar brothers. "As I look back, I have been incredibly blessed throughout my whole life," he told The Catholic Telegraph. "I see my vocation as a blessing, and not as a job or a career. I am truly grateful, and I continue to ‘hope in the Lord,’ now and forever."-First printed in the Summer 2011 WGA Evans Scholars Magazine